‘Proof by Underpants’: A Citizen Science Project for researching soil life and soil quality.
The soil makes human life on Earth possible, but little is known about the organisms that live in it and their activity. In this Citizen Science project conducted jointly by Agroscope and the University of Zurich, and together with private garden owners, producers and other interested parties, we aim to investigate soil life with the help of buried underwear. Yes, you heard correctly: underwear.
In 2021, a thousand participants took part in the project, burying underwear in their gardens, fields, meadows, and in the forest and town. After two months the pants were dug up, photographed and dried. Together with a soil sample, they were then sent back to the researchers, who analysed everything. The more decomposed the briefs, the more active the soil life – and the healthier the soil.
In addition, management data was collected via an app in order to help categorise the results.
All participants were sent the results of their soil-analysis data, together with explanations and recommendations on how to optimise their soil.
The scientific data analysis is meant to highlight how soil biological activity is distributed across Switzerland, and what factors influence it. It aims to test how well-suited cotton underwear is as a soil-quality indicator, and to develop recommendations on how to encourage soil organisms and the important functions and services they provide.
Created as part of the project, the picture book Der Dschungel im Boden [‘The Jungle in the Soil’] introduces the key players in soil life and gives exciting background information. The book is published by Werd & Weber Verlag, and can be purchased at a discount via the project website.
The aim of the project is to shine a spotlight on the fascinating universe beneath our feet – essential for human life but vastly under-researched – and to allow the population to experience soils as living systems harbouring a large percentage of global species diversity. The project has generated worldwide media coverage, enabling its message to be spread to a wide sector of the population.
With the help of Swiss citizens, the ‘Proof by Underpants’ project is developing an indicator for soil life, bringing to life the topic of soil quality and biodiversity.
Citizen science – doing science together
The term ‘citizen science’ describes the joint research conducted by professionals from science and private individuals from the general population. Participants contribute to all stages of the research process, which they can have a say in and help shape.
Thanks to this participatory approach, citizen participants benefit from the specialist knowledge of the researchers, and the researchers, conversely, from the commitment and practical and local knowledge of the citizen participants.
- Mercator Switzerland Foundation
- Ernst Göhner Foundation
- Dreiklang Foundation
- Participatory Science Academy ETH & UZH
- Swiss National Science Foundation
- Paul Schiller Foundation
Last modification 20.09.2022